Kobe v. Lebron, #24 v. #23, The Black Mamba v. King James… on and on we can go with clichéd comparisons between two exceptionally gifted NBA basketball players. One, a proven NBA champion; the other, a proven media champion.
Why write about Lebron on a Lakers website?
We followed Lebron James almost as closely as we did our beloved Lakers. We scoffed when he had monster games. We candidly rejoiced when he struggled. We spent hour’s texting, tweeting and talking about why Kobe > Lebron would always be the accurate portrayal of that equation. We hid behind the Mamba’s rings, the game winners, the notorious finger…
Why spend so much time thinking about Lebron James – a player who has won the same number of NBA Finals games as you and I have? Why root against him so passionately, even when it meant that we support our most hated rivals, the Boston Celtics? Why pay so much attention to what happens in a rather glum NBA city over 2,300 miles from Los Angeles?
In a single word: Fear.
We feared that he was good enough to make us all liars; brave enough to rip the torch out of Kobe Bryant’s hand; resolute enough to put an end to the Lakers repeat bid. In our very worst nightmares, Lebron James became exactly who the media had been telling us he was all along – the King of the NBA, the best player in the world, an NBA champion.
When we peeked out from behind our perceived confidence, we realized that James was like nothing we had seen before. He ran over the NBA this season. He rightfully won his second consecutive MVP in a landslide. He demolished the Lakers both times they faced off. He led the Cleveland Cavaliers to a league-best 61 wins, and on most nights, made it look rather easy.
Even so, during last night’s Game 6 in Boston, a pair of unthinkable things happened to me:
- I openly pulled for the Boston Celtics – something that certainly made me feel like more of a sellout than Snoop Dog.
- As time expired, with the crowd chanting New York Knicks and Clevelanders making a frenzied rush to the closest liquor store, I felt a small hint of sadness for Lebron James.
James has been spoon fed his entire life. Before he had even experienced a high school prom, his games were being nationally televised on ESPN. He pocketed $90 million from Nike without having ever taken the floor in an NBA jersey. He was thrust into the spotlight by a jaded media in search of a superstar to quickly replace the shunned, post-Colorado Kobe Bryant. He instantaneously became a media-god, the next great one, the heir to the throne, the King of the NBA.
In James’ defense, he didn’t know any better; or maybe even worse, he didn’t believe the rules applied to him. When everyone around you is relentlessly praising you, at some point, you start to praise yourself. You become childish and classless when you don’t get your way – the type of individual who would walk off the floor after a loss in the Eastern Conference Finals to the Orlando Magic.
You make pompous remarks to the media like, “If I really wanted to be the scoring champion every single year, I could really do it.” You get defensive after a bad performance and tell the world, “I spoil a lot of people with my play; when you’ve had three bad games in a seven year career, then it’s easy to point that [a bad game] out.”
To this point in his career, Lebron James has been playing with house money. Every failure had an asterisk, most often supplied by the pro-Lebron sentiment in the National media. Lebron’s Cleveland Cavaliers have been the best team in the NBA for the last two seasons. Both years, they eclipsed 60-wins, secured home-court advantage throughout the playoffs and Lebron was named the league MVP.
Consequently, when the smoke settled, Lebron James walked off the court a loser, something he has experienced every single season during his NBA career.
For all intents and purposes, the Lebron vs. Kobe argument is a thing of the past – Kobe winning in a landslide without even having to do anything. More importantly, the pro-Lebron media pass is finished, as indicated by the hundreds of LeChoke columns surfacing in the newspapers, magazines and blogs over the last twenty-four hours.
For the first time in James’ career (and maybe in his life), he will be forced to look deep inside himself and determine what is most important to him. Coincidentally, Kobe Bryant, not so long ago, stood in James’ shoes, asking the same questions, searching for the same answers.
Once the media-darling of the NBA, Kobe knows all about the cold realities of being in the press dog-house. He also has a dusty trophy case of individual accolades locked away somewhere in his Nike-funded mansion. He understands the pressures of failing on the biggest stage in an MVP season – most recently to the Boston Celtics in 2008.
Failure is always a prerequisite for success – and Bryant’s biggest failures have most often times resulted in his greatest accomplishments. He discovered that in the world of professional sports, you don’t become the best player on a championship team without it being an obsession, a singular focus, an addiction.
For Lebron James, taking home the Larry O’Brien Trophy has seemed to be a lot more of a nice-to-have than a must-have.
Winning an NBA title has to take the center stage of his life. It has to be bigger than his lofty goal of becoming a billionaire. It has to be more important than gaining worldwide fame, recognition and celebrity. It has to take precedence over posh parties and scenic get aways with Jay-Z and the rest of his Hollywood crew.
When winning an NBA championship becomes bigger than Lebron James, then, and only then, will he have earned that crown he has so prematurely placed on his own head.
Until then, be it in Cleveland, New York or somewhere else, Lebron James will always be chasing Kobe Bryant.